So you’re ready to have a go at speaking some Italian.
You’ve learned the basic phrases and, even if you’re a bit nervous (that’s normal!), you’re looking forward to trying them out.
But when you begin the conversation, things don’t feel smooth.
Perhaps you’re making a mistake when answering come stai? – something that almost every Italian learner does at some point!
By the end of this post, you’ll be able to answer this conversation opener like a native and avoid some common errors that trip up most learners.
First though… what does come stai really mean?
What does COME STAI mean in Italian?
In a nutshell, come stai? means “how are you?”.
Come means “how”. So far so good.
Stai comes from the word stare, which is the Italian word for “to stay”. So the phrase come stai literally means:
Come = how
Stai = you stay
Why do we use the word “stay” to talk about how we are? Interestingly, Italians use stare in quite a few situations where we normally use “to be” in English, for example:
Stai zitto! = Be quiet! (lit. “You stay quiet”)
But let’s not get lost in these details. Right now, all you need to know is that to master this Italian conversation opener, you’ll need the verb stare.
Use STARE to ask and understand how everyone is
So far, you know that:
- To ask “how are you”, we say come stai?
- Stai literally means “you stay”.
But what if we want to talk about how other people are, like “he”, “she” or “they”? Here’s how we use the verb stare to talk about other people in Italian:
|state||you (plural) stay|
Now you can work out how to ask how everyone else is, too!
Come sto? = How am I?
Come stai? = How are you?
Come sta? = How is s/he?
Come stiamo? = How are we?
Come state? = How are you all/both? (plural, when speaking to two or more people)
Come stanno? = How are they?
Got the logic behind the phrase come stai? Great! Let’s move onto some more important details so you can use it like a native.
Come stai vs. come sta
When speaking to someone older or a professional acquaintance in Italian, we use the third person: come sta?
So if you’re making conversation in a café with an older barista, or saying hello to your doctor at the beginning of your appointment, it’s better to say come sta rather than come stai.
It’s the same as the form we use when talking about someone else, he or she:
E Matteo? Come sta? – And Matteo? How is he?
Using the he or she form to talk to someone directly creates a bit of formal distance between you and them, but isn’t at all unfriendly. Rather, it conveys respect.
Come stai? = How are you? (informal)
Come sta? = How are you (formal)
How to answer COME STAI in Italian?
Now you understand the question more deeply, what about the answer? Here are the 7 most common answers to come stai:
1. The thoughtful:
Bene… bene = well… well
Say this while staring absentmindedly into the distance… this has the added advantage of giving you lots of time to think of what to say next! Joking aside, Italians really do often say bene twice, perhaps because saying bene just once sounds a little too abrupt.
2. The business-like:
Bene, grazie = Fine, thank you
Say this before swiftly moving on to greater things.
3. The neutral:
Tutto bene = Everything’s fine (lit. all fine)
Another quick and easy answer for polite conversation.
4. The enthusiastic:
Benissimo! = Really great!
Then bounce into your next phrase to tell them all about it.
5. The detail-oriented:
Tutto a posto = Everything’s fine (lit. “all at place”)
You’re sure everything’s well. You’ve checked. And double checked.
6. The playful:
Benone = Very well
Why use a boring word like bene (well) when you could use this informal and playful way to say “reaallllly well”?
7. The stoic:
Non c’è male = Not bad
Things could be worse. It’s all relative anyway…
Bonus tips to sound like a native
1. Don’t say sto bene
Sto bene means “I’m fine”. You can say the whole phrase, but native speakers usually omit the sto. It’s similar to how in English, if someone asks how you are, you’d normally reply “fine, thanks”. It sounds a bit stilted to say “I’m fine, thanks”.
2. Don’t use the pronoun (io)
Remember that Italians hardly ever use pronouns like “I” (io), unless they’re really emphasising who they’re talking about.
In short, don’t say io sto bene. Instead, say bene, grazie or bene, bene. It sounds more natural.
So now you know how the natives answer come stai, what are the mistakes you should avoid?
Three mistakes to avoid when answering COME STAI
This mistake should really speak for itself, because it’s not Italian. Many people do answer bien though because they might already know some French or Spanish. The Italian way to say “well” is always bene.
This means “good” in Italian. Why can’t we use it as a reply to come stai?
This requires a bit of school-style grammar, so we’ll take it step by step.
Buono (good) is an adjective. This means we use it to describe things, like wine or ideas:
- Un buon vino = a good wine
- Una buona idea = a good idea
Bene (well) is an adverb. This means we use it to describe a verb (an action), like speaking or cooking:
- Matteo cucina bene = Matteo cooks well
- Parli bene l’italiano! = You speak Italian well! (lit. you speak well Italian)
In Italian, stare (to stay) is a verb, so to describe it, we use bene.
3. Va bene
This is probably the most common mistake when answering come stai.
It’s easy to do because va bene is one of those expressions you’ll hear all the time if you’re around Italians.
You might have heard the question Come va? How’s it going? And you might know that va bene means “it’s going well”, literally:
Va – it goes
Bene – well
But it sounds weird as an answer to the question come stai? Come to think of it, it would sound odd in English, too!
– How are you? – *It’s going well
Here’s another reason it sounds unnatural: in Italian va bene is used as a way to agree to something, like “sure, OK”, or “no problem”.
Vuoi mangiare fuori? Do you want to eat out?
Va bene! Sure, OK!
Since that’s the most common usage, if someone asks you “come stai” and you reply “va bene”, it can sound a bit like you’re answering the question “how are you” with “sure!”
Just remember that when you’re answering questions about your health and wellbeing, like come stai, it’s best to avoid va bene because it doesn’t sound very natural.
How to Answer COME STAI in Italian: Review
Molto bene! You made it to the end of this guide on how to answer come stai? in Italian. Soon, you’ll do a mini quiz to see how much you’ve learned, but first, here’s a quick review:
To ask someone how they are, you can say:
- Come stai = how are you (informal)
- Come sta = how are you (formal)
Here are a few different ways to answer like a native:
- Come stai= How are you?
- Bene, bene= well, well
- Bene, grazie= well, thank you
- Tutto bene= everything’s well
- Tutto a posto= lit. all in place
- Benissimo!= really great!
- Benone= really well (informal/playful)
- Non c’è male= not bad (lit. there’s not bad)
To sound natural, remember to leave out io and sto. Instead of io sto bene, it’s better to say bene, bene, or bene, grazie.
And here are some common mistakes to avoid. DON’T say:
- Bien (it’s French or Spanish, not Italian)
- Buono (we use it to describe things, like wine)
- Va bene (it means “ok”, but only when agreeing to something)
Now, if everything’s a posto, feel free to dive into the bonus materials and questions below and put your knowledge to the test!
Become a member (it’s free!)
Learn to speak and understand Italian faster by joining the Joy of Languages Italian club! When you sign up, you’ll get:
- Mini Italian lessons + bonus materials delivered to your inbox.
- Access to the private Facebook group where you can practice chatting in Italian.
- Invites to free speaking workshops.
If you’d like to join us, click here to become a member of our Italian club.
Vocabulary: How to answer COME STAI in Italian
Come stai= How are you?
Bene, bene= well, well
Bene, grazie= well, thank you
Tutto bene= everything’s well
Tutto a posto= lit. all in place
Benissimo!= really great!
Benone= really well (informal/playful)
Non c’è male= not bad (lit. there’s not bad)
Quiz: How to answer COME STAI in Italian
How much did you learn? Find out in the quiz!
Click here to take the quiz for this episode: How to answer COME STAI in Italian
Flashcards: How to answer COME STAI in Italian
Remember the vocabulary from this lesson by downloading the digital flashcards
Not sure how it works? Click here to watch the tutorial
Transcript: How to answer COME STAI in Italian
Please note, this is not a word for word transcript.
K: So Matteo, what other mistakes do students typically make with this question?
M: Well… maybe I’ll let you explain this one!
K: OK, we’ll talk about those mistakes soon, but let’s start by seeing some examples of how natives reply first. Here’s an example of a typical conversation after Matteo just saw a pineapple pizza:
K: Ciao Matteo! Come stai?
M: 😓Bene… bene.
K: Bene? Dimmi Matteo, cos’hai?
M: Tutto bene.
K: Matteo, ti conosco.
M: 😤Sto bene!
K: He’s not happy, non è contento, about the pineapple pizza. Let’s go through the dialogue step by step. So first I asked Matteo:
M: Come stai?
K: How are you? Literally:
Come? = How?
Stai? = You are
K: This is the “you form” of a really important verb in Italian: stare. It sounds a bit like “stay”, which is what it literally means. To ask how you are, Italians literally say “how you stay”:
M: Come stai?
K: Then Matteo answered:
M: Bene… bene
K: Fine, fine. Literally “Well… well”.
K: This is a typical way to respond where Italians will just say “bene” twice. Remember that in Italian, you can’t say “good”, which would be:
K: You have to say “bene”, which means “well”. You can learn more about the differences between these words in an episode we did a while ago, number 20! Then we had:
M: Bene? Dimmi Matteo, cos’hai?
K: Well? Tell me Matteo, what’s wrong? Word for word:
Bene? = Well?
Dimmi = Tell me.
Cos’hai? = What’s wrong? Broken down further that’s:
Cosa = what
Hai = you have
K: This is a very native-sounding expression. To ask what’s wrong, we literally say “What do you have”?. Cosa and hai get squished together:
K: Then Matteo says:
M: Tutto bene!
K: All ok! Literally
Tutto = All, or everything
Bene = well
M: Matteo, ti conosco.
K: Matteo, I know you. Word for word:
Ti = you
Conosco = I know
K: Then Matteo replied:
M: Sto bene!
K: I’m fine! Word for word:
Sto = literally “I stay” – the verb stare but this time in the “I” form.
Bene = Well.
K: Attenzione! Be careful, because although this is the way you typically learn in your first Italian lesson, it actually sounds unnatural. It’s similar to English. If someone says “how are you” and you say “I’m fine”, it sounds a bit stilted. Most of the time, we skip the “I’m” part and just say “fine, thanks”.
In natural speech, most Italians just say bene, bene or bene, grazie, without sto.
Matteo used sto in this case to give a lot of emphasis, because he’s really trying to drive his point home: I’M FINE, STO BENE.
M: I had to force it because I’m not really fine, it’s just so hard to see a good pizza ruined with pineapple.
K: Tutto bene Matteo, tutto bene. Everything’s ok.
So to recap, three simple and native-sounding ways to respond to come stai are:
K: Now let’s talk about another mistake to avoid! You’ve already heard bien which is Spanish or French, it doesn’t exist in Italian. And buono which means good rather than well. Another common mistake is va bene.
M: Yes, in Italian, if someone asks you come stai, you can’t reply with va bene.
K: I think there are a couple of reasons people might make this mistake. The first is because we have the question Come va?, which means “how’s it going?”. We might assume we can answer va bene, which literally means “it goes well” or “it’s going well”.
M: But it sounds weird as an answer to come stai.
K: Come to think of it, it would sound a bit odd in English, too, if someone asks “how are you”, and you reply “it’s going well”.
K: It could also be because in Italian, va bene has another, more common meaning, which is “OK”. We use it when we want to accept something or agree with someone, for example:
M: Vuoi mangiare fuori?
K: Va bene! (Do you want to eat out? OK!)
K: Because va bene means “ok” when we accept or agree, we might assume it means “ok” when talking about our health and wellbeing, as in “I’m ok, thanks”.
M: Ah! That makes sense. But yeah, in Italian, you can’t use va bene to mean “ok” when you’re talking about how you are.
K: To talk about health and wellbeing, we always use the verb stare with bene. For example, are you ok? Literally, you stay well? The “you form” of stare is stai.
M: Stai bene?
K: To say “I’m ok thanks”, we say “I stay well thanks”. The “I form” of stare is sto.
M: Sto bene, grazie
K: And as we know, if we’re using it as part of a casual conversation starter, we normally omit the sto.
M: Bene, grazie.
K: Let’s listen to the conversation one more time:
K: Ciao Matteo! Come stai?
M: 😓Bene… bene.
K: Bene? Dimmi Matteo, cos’hai?
M: Tutto bene.
K: Matteo, ti conosco.
M: 😤Sto bene!
K: So we’ve learned a lot today. Aside from the fact that Matteo doesn’t like pineapple pizza, you also learned that if someone asks you come stai?, you should avoid saying bien, buono, or va bene.
M: Insead, to sound like a native Italian, you should say: bene, bene, tutto bene or bene, grazie.
K: To see everything written down, learn more native ways to answer come stai?, and test yourself with a quiz and vocabulary cards to help it all sink in, head over to our website by clicking the link in the description.
M: Or you can go to joyoflanguages.com/italianpodcast and search for episode 89.
K: See you next time. Or as we say in Italian.
K, M: Alla prossima!
Join our Italian club
To get mini lessons delivered to your inbox, access to the private Facebook group and invites to speaking workshops, click here to become a member.